Why am I a target in my own home?

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Live in your school's catchment area at your peril, says a secondary teacher under siege from teenage thugs. She describes the consequences of ignoring this basic rule

When I took up my first teaching post, my second-in-department gave me some sound advice. I was thinking of finding a house near the school; I don't drive and I thought it would make things easier. Bad idea. She painted a few scenarios for me. Did I want my Year 8 pupils to see me having a row with my boyfriend in Sainsbury's on a Saturday morning? Did I want to be trying to get served at a bar on a Friday night, only to be queue-jumped by my Year 11? Did I want them to see me with a Sunday morning hangover? I got the picture, and I lived as far outside the catchment area as public transport and an NQT salary would allow.

Two years later, I moved back to the fine city that is Charles Clarke's constituency and the school where I had done my first teaching practice. A safe seat, a safe school, a safe city without the violent crime rates, the gun crime and the gang crime of the inner city. A year into my new job I move. I find my dream house: a bedroom for each of us, big garden and - every single parent's fantasy - a dishwasher. I'm sold, and forget rule number one: never live in catchment.

It's Friday night. I'm knackered. My own kids are at their dad's. It's time to stretch out on the sofa with a good book. Outside: footsteps, laughter and a knock at the door. Not a friendly knock. This isn't someone I know.

But they know me, they know where I live, and they're banging on the door.

I'm shaking. More laughter, fading now. I go upstairs to check from my bedroom window. The street's empty. I unlock the front door and, as I push the handle down to open it, the empty lager bottle on the other side slides off, smashing loudly on the doorstep. It's starting again.

When the police come, two hours later, it's the same WPC who dealt with the first round of harassment, last winter. It was she who got the conviction for assault for the Year 11 who threw a snowball, hard, in my face, in my front garden. It was she who issued harassment orders to the Year 9 boy and the Year 10 boy, the ringleaders, and the only two I could identify from the gang of kids from my school, who threw snowballs at my windows and, when the snow had melted, raw eggs. This time, there's nothing they can do.

I thought it was over, but it's begun again. For more than a year, I've had eggs - and stones - thrown at the windows. Kids banging on the windows shouting "bitch". More snowballs. Gangs of kids, hoods up, hats on, shouting that they're going to smash the windows, "do" me, rape me. And then one evening my son is walking my daughter round the corner to her piano lesson, while I'm getting my three-year-old in the bath. Two lads pull out a knife and threaten to stab them. My children run for it and make it to the piano teacher's house. She calmly gets my daughter to carry on playing, as my son calls the police and the Year 10 boys hurl stones at her windows.

This is it. The final straw. I don't want to be a teacher any more. It's not worth this.

I am left with a gang of kids on my doorstep who still won't leave me alone, without a job, and with some unanswered questions. Such as: why me? First, it's convenience. My house is close to the shops where they congregate. I'm an easy target.

Second, I am a teacher and, in their eyes, a legitimate target for their feelings about the school and teachers in general. Initially, I took some comfort from this; it wasn't personal. On the whole, these are kids I don't teach, and the harassment has never followed an incident in school.

Reluctantly, I believe it is because I am a woman, and a single parent. I have never made a secret of bringing up children on my own. On the contrary, I thought I was a positive role model for the large numbers of pupils in my school being brought up without a dad.

In reality, the adolescent males who intimidate me and threaten sexual violence are, for the most part, being brought up by lone women, and they've got a real problem with it, and with me.

These two factors are, I think, the answer to my second unanswered question: why am I powerless? As a normal human being, on the receiving end of such abuse and intimidation, it would be understandable if you told them to fuck off, or to threaten them. As a teacher, even outside school, even on your own doorstep, this would amount to professional misconduct, might bring the dreaded complaints from parents, and would destroy your professional reputation.

Unlike the average citizen, however, I have vast experience of dealing with anti-social behaviour and confrontation. In the classroom, the corridor and the playground, I have found that you don't have to be a 6ft 2in, fit, rugby-playing PE teacher to break up a fight. You can do it just as well if you're a short, blonde English teacher.

So why is it different at home? In school, I talk in my teacher voice. I use teacher speak. At home, I have no professional face to hide behind, I'm just me. There is no senior management team on duty; no friendly colleague in the classroom next door. There are no rules. In school, I can get a kid to take his hat off, and if he doesn't, the consequences are immediate. At home, they use their hats and hoods as weapons of anonymity.

Unlike the classroom, there is no silent majority of the willing; they really are all out to get you. There is no work they should be getting on with, no time out to send them to. If, in school, you can't leave your classroom to chase after a kid who's called you a "fucking bitch", still less can you leave your own children at home alone while you run down the street in hot pursuit.

If I can't do anything to stop it on my own, shouldn't the police or the school do something? They both see it as the other's problem. I'm being harassed outside school, so it's a police problem. I'm being harassed because I'm a teacher, so it's a school problem. The advice I have been given is softly, softly. Do nothing. Don't respond. Hope it goes away. I don't, and it hasn't. Stay away from the windows. Install surveillance equipment. Keep a log. Write it down. I've written it down now. Will it make any difference?

The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, lives in Norwich

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